These weighty but food-friendly whites are inexpensive and offer an exciting mix of Rhône varieties – what’s not to love, asked our panel...
Better known for its reds, the southern Rhône Valley also produces characterful, juicy white wines – and not just from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
96 wines tasted
Exceptional – 0
Outstanding – 2
Highly Recommended – 24
Recommended – 52
Commended – 11
Fair – 5
Poor – 0
Faulty – 2
Simon Field MW; Laurent Richet MS; Matt Walls
Most dry white wines from the southern Rhône have a certain opulence, flavoured with the kind of fruits that dribble down your chin – golden pears, white peaches, blushing apricots. When balanced with freshness, definition and cut, the wines can be stunning; however, they risk being heavy and corpulent.
‘These wines offer the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) factor, with real varietal definition and expression’, noted Simon Field MW.
Whereas most southern Rhône whites are best drunk within four years of vintage, the best Châteauneufs can age for 30 years or more. Thanks to soil types, grape varieties and winemaking options, styles vary from medium-bodied and tense to flamboyantly rich. Most producers block malolactic fermentation to retain acidity, while fermentation and ageing in oak is common.
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White Southern Rhône Panel Tasting top scorers:
SF: A modest lime-green colour with a nose of blossom and summer meadows. The palate is statuesque, although a little unformed. The impressive framework of mouth-watering acidity maintains a tight grip. An excellent wine. LR: This wine has an array of aromas and flavours. The initial hit of vanilla on…
A wine full of youthful energy! Its stone fruit character, orange peel and yellow peach complement its rather spicy edge. There’s an almost salty, mineral feel on the finish, which makes it powerful, long, but refined.
A salty mineral aroma on the nose is followed by flowers, plums and green apples. It’s very fresh on the palate with hints of fennel and liquorice, and mango flavoured custard on the finish.
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The clear favourite was Châteauneuf-du-Pape, well represented in the top-scoring wines. ‘In the past these wines could be over-extracted and over-concentrated, heavy and overoaked,’ said Matt Walls.
‘This wasn’t the case at all here. The wines had freshness; the oak was dialled down and that allowed the energy and vibrancy that comes from the terroir to sing, without being masked by oak.’
Laurent Richet MS agreed: ‘These wines had freshness, acidity, elevation and great balance.’
Côtes du Rhône
More care is needed when selecting wines at Côtes du Rhône blanc level. ‘These were very up and down,’ said Walls. ‘There was very little consistency of style, or quality, and this is an appellation where you shouldn’t buy blind. There are so many soils, terroirs, varietal options and winemaking styles that it’s unsurprising.’
Cairanne was identified as a particular star, with Field describing the wines from this appellation as having a chalky salinity and impressive length. Walls revealed that when buying white southern Rhône, Cairanne is the appellation he chooses most regularly – ‘You get a bit more fat, weight and richness compared to Lirac. I find it consistently good from year to year, and the wines are very good value, characterful and balanced.’ Quite an endorsement.
All three tasters preferred the 2016 wines over those from the hotter 2015 vintage, though Richet felt that the weight of the 2015 whites made them ideal for drinking with food.
‘In general, it’s best to buy the youngest vintage you can find with these wines,’ Walls advised, with Field adding that fresh vintages like 2016 and 2014 are best.